Review The Fights On The Little Horn. Unveiling the mysteries of Custer's Last Stand

RetPara

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#1
The BEST book on Custer I have read to date is "The Fights On The Little Horn. Unveiling the mysteries of Custer's Last Stand" by Gordon Harper. This book is based on primary sources (interviews, letters, and such developed over 40 years of study). These interviews, trial transcripts, and notes also include the NA point of view of the battle. This is a very in-depth look at the battle, background of the campaign, and individuals that are a part of it. The movements of individuals and units. There are also some analytical chapters on some questions such as Custer disobeying orders, and splitting the command prior to the battle. Harper looks both at critics and supporters of Custer from a neutral stance. He brings forth some very sound arguments against what in many cases is considered be common knowledge.

Read that with "Archeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle" by Richard Fox. This book is based on the forensic exam of the battlefield after a fire removed the normal 2-3 foot tall grass that grows there. Think a platoon on line with metal detectors. Through the discovery of previously unknown remains (Mitch Boyer's), tracking of weapons through shell cases and spent bullets as the rifle and pistol changes hands Fox and the team of researchers, scientists, and volunteers have laid the ground work of discovering of what happened on that hot June afternoon so many years ago.

If you only read two books on Custer and the Little Big Horn.... read Fox then Harper.

If George would of fucking listened to me when I TOLD him he was gonna need the Gatling's, we'd be writing about his term of President instead of this.
 

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#2
If George would of fucking listened to me when I TOLD him he was gonna need the Gatling's, we'd be writing about his term of President instead of this.
You think would have made a difference? I've always thought their value would be slight, particularly given the terrain and sheer number of the Home team.
 

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#3
Having walked ad driven through the terrain at Little Big Horn... Gatlings would not have been as useful as one would think, especially with Custer's/Reno's broken smaller forces in the low areas and the Lakota/Northern Cheyenne enjoying the numerical and terrain advantage. Part of the terrain advantage was knowledge, although this was mitigated somewhat by Custer's use of Crow scouts.
 

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#5
I believe they would of helped.... but more on that later.... }:-)
the carriage mounted Gatlings would have forced the 7th Cav into even more untenable positions and routes of approach as well as slowing them immensely. The force was too small, Custer too egomaniacal and the officers under his command blinded by his reputation. All were overconfident and did not listen to the Crow scouts who told them they were out numbered and outmaneuvered.
 
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AWP

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#6
You'd have to set them up in an ORP type scenario. His divide and attack plan wouldn't support their use and that's before you consider the terrain. Like several of you I've walked that battlefield and can't envision carriage-mounted anything being of much use except in a defensive position. Even then you're talking the Reno/ Benteen bluff and not the last stand hill or similar terrain. Custer "didn't have enough bullets to go that way."
 

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#7
Have I said yet that Custer was an ass, and killed a lot of good men in order to get what he deserved? Why Custer was made out to be a hero is beyond me. He disobeyed orders, cut his forces in half, did not wait for his reserves and went up against a numerically, tactically and strategically superior force on territory that did not suit his mode of battle, while disregarding the admonitions of his local scouts. He had outpaced his supply lines and was too far from the nearest fort to even retreat. All while hoping to kill women and children in order to demoralize the fighting force of his opponents. LT Calley was a student of Custer IIRC, see where it got him?
 

Diamondback 2/2

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#10
Custer spent his entire military career being exceptionally lucky, up to the point of the little big horn. Under their MTO&E they would have needed a brigade size maneuver element, arty, and way more reconnaissance/intel, to have effectively engaged the NA forces without unnecessary casualties.

Pure and simple Custer directed his men into a slaughter.
 

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#11
The BEST book on Custer I have read to date is "The Fights On The Little Horn. Unveiling the mysteries of Custer's Last Stand" by Gordon Harper. This book is based on primary sources (interviews, letters, and such developed over 40 years of study). These interviews, trial transcripts, and notes also include the NA point of view of the battle. This is a very in-depth look at the battle, background of the campaign, and individuals that are a part of it. The movements of individuals and units. There are also some analytical chapters on some questions such as Custer disobeying orders, and splitting the command prior to the battle. Harper looks both at critics and supporters of Custer from a neutral stance. He brings forth some very sound arguments against what in many cases is considered be common knowledge.

Read that with "Archeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle" by Richard Fox. This book is based on the forensic exam of the battlefield after a fire removed the normal 2-3 foot tall grass that grows there. Think a platoon on line with metal detectors. Through the discovery of previously unknown remains (Mitch Boyer's), tracking of weapons through shell cases and spent bullets as the rifle and pistol changes hands Fox and the team of researchers, scientists, and volunteers have laid the ground work of discovering of what happened on that hot June afternoon so many years ago.

If you only read two books on Custer and the Little Big Horn.... read Fox then Harper.

If George would of fucking listened to me when I TOLD him he was gonna need the Gatling's, we'd be writing about his term of President instead of this.
This will be my next buy for my PW. Thanks!!
 

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#12
I just finished the Fox book. It was fascinating to me because I've never really given much attention to the Custer battle. My impressions of it, prior to reading this, was that he was a lousy officer who got all his men killed and hooray for the Indians.

This book didn't change that view but it did help me to understand what might have transpired and it dispelled some commonly held myths about the "heroic stand" that I probably shared with a lot of people.

It's kind of a spooky story because you can imagine yourself on that battlefield.

I'm just starting the Gordon Harper book now.
 

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#13
It's kind of a spooky story because you can imagine yourself on that battlefield.
If you have a chance to go, then do it. Once your eye sees the severity of the terrain a lot of the "holy crap" moments come into focus. Last Stand Hill and the general battlefield were amazing, but standing on Reno/ Benteen Bluff, looking at the river or the depression where the wounded were treated/ sheltered? That's when the scope and distances involved hit you. The water carriers who descended the bluff received the MoH. 19 total and this was when it was the only medal for valor, but standing on the bluff? Those 19 were earned.

Custer's Last Stand
 

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#14
If you have a chance to go, then do it. Once your eye sees the severity of the terrain a lot of the "holy crap" moments come into focus. Last Stand Hill and the general battlefield were amazing, but standing on Reno/ Benteen Bluff, looking at the river or the depression where the wounded were treated/ sheltered? That's when the scope and distances involved hit you. The water carriers who descended the bluff received the MoH. 19 total and this was when it was the only medal for valor, but standing on the bluff? Those 19 were earned.

Custer's Last Stand
Thanks FF, this is a great link...exactly the kind of stuff I've been looking for to augment my understanding of the battlefield. One thing that struck me as I looked at the map keys both in the book and in your link are the distances involved. Reno's retreat, for example, looks to be about a mile and a half. God help those who were unhorsed and under fire the whole way.

I'll have to get out West and visit this. The photos don't do it justice. I went to Google Earth to view the battlefield and was surprised by the terrain.
 

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#15
I went to Google Earth to view the battlefield and was surprised by the terrain.
Remember too that some historians and contemporary "peers" chastise Reno for being drunk (true) and not riding to Custer's rescue. Look at the overheads, both for terrain and distance. That would have been a death march, some slow, agonizing "Charge of the Light Brigade" moment AND he would have vacated the best terrain around.

Back to the main battlefield..... I walked it from the visitor's center to Last Stand Hill and that's about where everyone stops. You can then drive over to the Reno-Benteen site, park, and then walk on a trail around the encampment area. I had none of that. I walked from the Hill about a 1/2 mile or so, down to about where one of the companies was killed en mass. The striking memory I have is of the single, isolated tombstones. The parks and burial parties over the years did their best to mark the location of the fallen and I know that all of them aren't represented, but it was chilling. You slowly drift downhill before hitting the first of the ravines where two companies/ troops were wiped out. We don't know how much the ravines have changed, but in the late 80's they were very steep and maybe 15-20 feet wide and about as deep, give or take. You imagine what it must have been like for those guys, driving into the "kill channels" with the Home team all around and firing down on you "fish in a barrel" style. The lone tombstones though...you've driven down to this village, pumped up by your CO who swears this is a cake walk and who has the record to back up his words. You hit the ville and 1. realize your boss is dead wrong and 2. realize you're dead. There wasn't much of a fighting withdrawal, it was organized panic turned into a rout before devolving into every man for himself. The main body moves back to the Hill, Custer's probably wounded by now and you watch guys die off in ones and twos. Of course, not all of them died right away and thus had the "pleasure" of meeting their enemy before facing a gruesome death. Alone. Probably after watching the others die.

The handful of O's and NCO's left, and who haven't gone mad or shut down by now, rally the men on the best piece of terrain around and try to make something of the moment. Custer's dead or dying, you've shot your horses to serve as bullet sponges, and one by one your guys die off. But man, those lone tombstones on the prairie...it has to be one thing to die around your mates, but quite another to die by yourself, to lie there in the burning grass (I think fire and smoke consumed some or that's a theory) waiting to be found, tortured, and executed. Some of them men barely spoke English too.

There's a major interstate nearby and despite that I'd swear you feel like you're on the moon. At least Reno's men had each other and the hope of survival. 1530 local below the Hill had to be the loneliest and saddest place on earth. Pure emotional misery. When you go out there you'll see what I mean. I've walked a number of Civil War battlefields and the closest I've found to replicating that feeling of dread is the Andersonville POW camp.
 

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#16
If you read Fox's book you'll see the the description of the tracking of weapons as they changed hands during the battle. Or otherwise moved. The Companies/Troops were spread out in skirmish lines. After the mounted natives stampeded most of the horses, the Troops were defeated in detail and rolled up to Last Stand Hill. There is one group that did attempt a breakout to the river through the big ravine. That is where Mitch Boyer's remains were found. I've looked over the maps and satellite pictures for years. While the time frame of the battle was really less than hour (or the time it takes for a hungry man to eat a meal) it would of been a cascading disaster... then after the warriors... come the women....

Kipling said it best though....

When first under fire an' you're wishful to duck,
Don't look nor take 'eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you're livin', and trust to your luck
And march to your front like a soldier.
Front, front, front like a soldier . . .

When 'arf of your bullets fly wide in the ditch,
Don't call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch;
She's human as you are -- you treat her as sich,
An' she'll fight for the young British soldier.
Fight, fight, fight for the soldier . . .

When shakin' their bustles like ladies so fine,
The guns o' the enemy wheel into line,
Shoot low at the limbers an' don't mind the shine,
For noise never startles the soldier.
Start-, start-, startles the soldier . . .

If your officer's dead and the sergeants look white,
Remember it's ruin to run from a fight:
So take open order, lie down, and sit tight,
And wait for supports like a soldier.
Wait, wait, wait like a soldier . . .

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier of the Queen!
 

AWP

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#17
Looking at my post above and comparing it to Google Maps and the link below, I think my memories of the distances involved are in error, but it looks like I walked due south from the Hill along Yates, Custer's, and Smith's paths. I vaguely recalled other companies being struck down on the other side of the modern road and the Wiki link has those as Keough, Crittenden, and Calhoun. I walked due south to the first cluster of ravines. Down in them they were well over my head at the time, but today, then, and 1876...who knows how the depths compare.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/Custer_Battlefield_1908_(bottom).jpg

The monument on the map above is the 7th Cav. Memorial on Google Maps. The fenced in area is Last Stand Hill.
 

Ocoka

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#18
I'm midway through Harper's book now, getting into the discussion of Custer's fight. What's really interesting to me is the estimated elapsed time that different events at different parts of the battlefield took place with regard to the principle players.
 
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metalmom

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#19
In my mind Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull were the true heroes of that battle.Actually what I meant to say was all their warriors that came together and defeated him were heroes. Read books on both men and the tribes.. Doesnt need to be complicated'Custer was an A-hole and made bad choices-didnt know the terrain very well

Just read this

Giving your life is the ultimate price for a bad decision, but Custer’s decision-making was especially poor in so many ways.

  1. He refused to listen to others, figuring his judgment was superior. Custer was ordered to hold off on any attack and to wait for reinforcements that were being led by Brig. Gen. Alfred Terry, but impatience got the better of him and Custer foolishly decided to act. Waiting would have been more sensible, because Gen. Terry and his troops arrived on June 26.
  2. He was arrogant. Custer was guilty of overconfident in his own talents and guilty of hubris, just like so many modern executives. He grossly underestimated the number of Indians facing him, pooh-poohed their abilities, and failed to understand the many advantages the competition had. Here’s one big one: While Custer’s troops were generally armed with single-shot rifles, the Indians had a number of repeating rifles that made their superior numbers even more so. Less hubris and ego might have helped Custer have a healthier respect of what he was facing.
  3. He wasn’t entirely focused on the job at hand. Custer’s focus wasn’t on fighting and defeating the Indians who were itching to fight him at the Little Bighorn. His misguided concern was that he needed to trap them and prevent their escape. That’s why he split his forces into three parts, diluting his overall strength. The other two units of the 7th Cavalry, led by Capt. Frederick Benteen and Maj. Marcus Reno, survived a fierce two-day fight that ended when Terry’s reinforcements arrived.
  4. He was outmanaged. Custer was facing wily Indian leader Sitting Bull, who lured him into a fight on his timetable, on a field of his choosing, and with a much larger (and superior) force. In addition, Sitting Bull delegated well. He trusted in Crazy Horse, his able field lieutenant, who executed the battle plan perfectly.
  5. He had terribly bad luck. It’s often said that luck is when preparation and opportunity meet, and that was certainly true for Sitting Bull and his forces at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The other side of that coin is that Custer had the terrible misfortune of deciding to fight what is still considered to be the largest force of Indian warriors ever assembled in North America, and he did it with an undersized and outgunned cavalry unit that he split into three parts.
A management formula: more patience, less hub
 
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